No wonder grandparents are so culturally revered. Their nurturing and protective genes still glow, they can usually set down a good plate of food and ignore curfews from the parental unit and, if track records are good, even shine as confidantes. The ones in The Visit are not those sort of elders. They’re different, and not in a good way.
Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, the film is a briskly moving tale framed around the week-long stay of two siblings – 15-year-old, aspiring filmmaker Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and eight-year-old Tyler (Ed Oxenbould), who has a passion for rap – at the home of their grandparents.
The kids are keen on giving their single mom (Kathryn Hahn) some down time with her new boyfriend. And the timing couldn’t be better. The elder duo – Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) – have contacted their daughter out of the blue and are really eager to finally meet their grandkids. About 15 years earlier, they had objected to their daughter’s new beau. Mom left in a huff, and that wound has yet to heal. Her kids, while staying with Nana and Pop Pop, hope their burgeoning documentary film will uncover some soulful answers to help Mom. But because the elders are a bit crackers, Becca and Tyler surely have their work cut out for them.
Beyond the scarefest, what Shyamalan does is pose the moral and artistic question of what constitutes truth and the nature of Saturnine, practical reality. One character refuses to respond forthrightly to another character’s question. But when the query is reframed as a “what if,” as if it were a story, the answer is delivered readily and elegantly. Remembrances of all kinds, lodged in one’s head, make filmic documentation a solid way to present matters objectively, if only one digs deeply and sharply enough.
Another refreshing element of The Visit is its take on senior folk. Nana and Pop Pop suggest, through the actors portraying them, the physicality of good food – barely burnt nuts are a show-stopping cookie ingredient – and juxtapose keenly working older minds with frailty. The film’s focus on terror often obscures these more profound elements. What’s always up front, however, is the certainty of the cyclical nature of life, as members of two generations flee an environment to survive.
Archetypes: Elders. Grandparents. Storytelling.
Astrology Archetype: ♄ (Saturn)